Philosophers dedicate their lives studying the "Is vs. Ought" dichotomy. But we don't have time for all of that. Instead let's just look at the United Nations.
According to its worshippers, the U.N. ought to be a moral authority. It ought to set an international norm for decency in international affairs.
It ought to be a champion for human rights. It ought to confer legitimacy on everything from humanitarian missions to wars to peace treaties. It ought to do all of these things and maybe even more. Maybe it should find homes for lost puppies and stop Internet spam, too. But it doesn't.
That's where the "is" part comes in. The U.N. is very few of the things it ought to be. Just look at who's heading up the United Nations Human Rights Commission: Libya. That's right: Libya.
Colonel Moammar Gadhafi was able to buy the chairmanship because it's Africa's turn to select the head of the HRC, and he's spent the last couple years collecting chits from various African nations. His biggest IOU came from bankrolling the new African Union, which will attempt to be an African equivalent of the E.U.
In return for Gadhafi's largesse, Libya's African neighbors actually let Libya run unopposed for the HRC chairmanship. The Libyan foreign ministry called the U.N. move "a shining victory which gives back their rights to the oppressed peoples."
The United States and Canada were among the few countries to formally protest the move. "We cannot reward such terrible conduct with a leadership position, in this case, in the foremost international human rights body," explained State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.
You can understand why the United States would be peeved. The idea of being lectured to by the country responsible for murdering the passengers on Pan Am flight 103 is a bit much, even for the United States, which is so accustomed to being tsk-tsked by awful countries around the world.
The obvious outrageous irony here is that Libya is to human rights what foxes are to chicken rights. According to Human Rights Watch, Libya's record "has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trails."
The idea that Libya should be chairing the foremost international body for investigating, condemning and even stopping human rights abuses throws a pie in the face of an institution that already stood out as a laughingstock.
It was just two years ago when the United States was kicked off the 53-member commission in order to make room for Syria. Syria! We're back on the commission this year, but we're sitting next to representatives from Algeria, Burkina Faso, China, Cuba, Congo, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. I keep picturing Uncle Sam getting voted down on a committee by Lex Luther, Darth Vader and that guy with the net who stole children in the movie "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."
You might wonder why so many countries that consider "human rights" the punchline to a joke would want to be on a panel dedicated to upholding human rights. Well, the answer is obvious. The inmates want to run the asylum.
If you want to keep the United Nations from condemning you for torturing your people, there's no better place to wield the monkey wrench then on the Human Rights Commission. "The greatest challenge for (the HRC) is going to be overcoming the tendencies of thugs to flock to it," Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, told The Washington Times.
"Their first instinct is to avoid condemnation, and now two dozen of the 53 are just abusers. It's reached a crisis point."
Well, it's only a crisis point if you look to the United Nations for moral leadership. But just because it holds votes and talks about human rights, doesn't mean the United Nations is what it ought to be. Criminals can take a vote and denounce the police, but that doesn't make the criminals democrats and their denunciations don't make the cops into criminals.
It's vital that Americans understand this, especially now that a majority apparently believe we should only go to war if the United Nations OKs it.
U.N. approval isn't a blessing from the Pope or an attaboy from Dad. It's most often the result of a loose coalition of decent and indecent nations conspiring to protect their vital interests often at the expense of the United States. It ought not be that way, but it is. And the sooner Americans learn this, the better.